Elevated body temperature, also known as fever, makes many people run to the medicine cabinet. This is especially true when fever strikes a young child and parents’ concerns grow. But fevers are quite common and not nearly as harmful as many people may think.
Although illnesses may bring about fevers that can be life-threatening, including malaria and dengue, more run-of-the-mill fevers are typically triggered by common bacterial or viral infections or even inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, offers The Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the cause of a fever can’t be identified, but that is not necessarily cause for alarm.
Fevers are a natural immune response. The purpose of a fever is to gain an advantage over an infectious agent by making the body less favorable for the spread of this agent, whether it’s a virus or bacterium. Many infectious agents are temperature-sensitive and require the right mix of conditions to be able to become profligate consumers of the body’s resources. The hypothalmus is the body’s internal thermostat and will be triggered by biochemical substances in the blood alerting the body to the presence of a potential invader. The body then will retain and generate more heat to essentially kill off that invader.
According to the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Indiana University, because children have immature and novice immune systems, they tend to get higher fevers more quickly than adults. As children age and their bodies learn and adapt, fevers typically are not nearly as severe. This may be a reason why a child’s high fever is less of a concern than the same fever in an adult.
Normal body temperature fluctuates during the day, but a temperature from about 97 F (36.1 C) to 99 F (37.2 C) generally is considered ‘normal.’ Adults should only be concerned if a fever is high-grade, reaching 104 F or more. Such fevers are considered dangerous. Chronic fevers, or those persisting for longer than three to four days, also should be checked out by a physician. Watching how a person behaves may indicate whether he or she is ill enough to necessitate a doctor visit. Infants should always be checked by a doctor if they have a fever because it could be a sign of a serious infection.
Low-grade fevers generally do not require any medicine, and taking a fever-reducer may prolong the underlying illness or mask the cause of it. Give the body a chance to fight the foreign invader before reaching for acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Physicians may advise avoiding fever-lowering drugs for temperatures of 102 F (38.9 C) or lower. Always call a doctor if you need clarification on medication dosage and other fever recommendations.
Fevers can be scary, but they are just one of many ways the human body defends itself against illness.